The quirky-looking building on the southeast corner of Telegraph and Haste, now Amoeba Music, has a colorful history that illustrates several chapters in Berkeley’s proud, independent history.
The building at 2455 Telegraph started life as Lucky’s Store No. 18.
It served the south campus neighborhood for several decades. In February 1964, the campus chapter of CORE (the Congress on Racial Equality) took action against Lucky Store 18 in an effort to pressure Lucky into hiring African-Americans. The actions included picketing and the “shop-in,” in which nicely dressed CORE members filled shopping carts with groceries but then refused to pay for the groceries until Lucky ended its discriminatory practices.
After ten days of picketing and shop-ins, Lucky signed an agreement covering its Bay Area stores, promising to end racial discrimination in its hiring practices. Shortly after that, it closed Store No. 18 on Telegraph. They blamed a high degree of shoplifting on the decision to close, but it is difficult to believe that there wasn’t some degree of retaliation for the shop-ins.
The next business to open at 2455 Telegraph was the Espresso Forum, one of the first two espresso shops on Telegraph.
The Forum was Bohemian in the intellectual sense of the word. In January 1966 the Forum made the news in the Berkeley Barb because of the Forum’s refusal to serve “people who look dirty or have long hair.”
At times Forum occupied the entire space, and at times it shared the space with other businesses such as Xanadu or the Blue Cue. It is immortalized in the “People’s History of Telegraph Avenue” mural by Osha Neumann and others on the Haste Street side of the building.
Next into the building was Allen Michael Noonan and the New World Family, a commune that saw Noonan as a galactic messenger.
A One World Family mural graced the Haste Street wall which today is the canvas for the People’s History mural.
It depicted Allen Michael’s vision of a soldiers, workers, and church coalition under the benevolent guidance of a flying saucer.
After One World Family moved on, Villa Hermosa settled in for more than a decade. I have not yet found a photograph of Villa Hermosa, so it will remain the missing link.
In 1990, Amoeba Music opened in the spot, and it remains there 24 years later as the buildings on the other three corners of the intersection have either been boarded up or fallen to the wrecking ball.
The piano keys just south of 2455 Telegraph are as quirky as Telegraph’s material culture gets. They are part of Amoeba, if not part of the original Lucky’s Store No. 18.
The changes at the corner over the years have reflected changes in Berkeley — from a supermarket serving a tame student population to an intellectual espresso joint to a cult’s vegetarian restaurant to a cheap and homey Mexican restaurant to an independent music store. As the Grateful Dead would say, what a long strange trip it’s been.
Tom Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,600 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means.
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